Sitting Next To Famous People

This past weekend, I was invited by the fine people of the Disneyana Fan Club to participate in the Author’s panel at their annual national convention in Garden Grove. There was no way that I would miss this considering I would be sitting next to such luminaries of the Disney universe as Jack Lindquist (Disneyland’s first president), Bob Gurr (aka Mr. Monorail), Margaret Kerry (aka Tinkerbell), Carolyn Carroll (wife of the dearly departed Eddie Carroll – voice of Jiminy Cricket), and Dave Smith (recently retired Disney Archivist). As a fanboy, what more could one ask for right?

To one side of the room was a silent auction table. Some of the items included a reproduction of the creepy early Mickey Mouse dolls, a Little Bo Beep statue, a Disneyland banner from the 30th anniversary, and a very cool little statue of the old ticket booth for Casey Jr.. Considering that virtually everybody was wearing some form of Disney related clothing, I was reminded that the genesis of this club was based around merchandising. If you like really cool, rare Disneyana then I suggest you book your trip for next year.

Although my portion of the program was on Saturday and the sale was Sunday, I wanted to be sure that I made it down there on Friday to hear former Vice Chairman of Imagineering, Marty Sklar’s, talk entitled “EPCOT – How It Changed The World.” For hopefully obvious reasons, I was very interested in the topic.

Marty started his talk by thanking all of those who went to Ryman Arts fundraising event the night before. If you are not familiar with this wonderful charity, I invite you to check it out. They do really good work. He also mentioned that he had a new book being released around this time next year.

Recently, he was invited by the WDI staff to review the model for the Shanghai Disneyland project. Although he would not reveal details, he noted that it looked like a great project and he wished the company the best of luck in building on mainland China. He felt this part of the project would not be easy.

As the Epcot show began, Marty reminded us that in the past 30 years, more than 300 million people have visited the park. A remarkable achievement. To prove his point, Marty replayed a editorial film by David Brinkley where he claims that Walt Disney World is the greatest piece of urban planning in America.

Like all good stories, you must start from the beginning. He showed an old photograph of one of the canoes at Disneyland filled with some of the key people who helped found the Park including Jack Reilly, Ray Miller, Bill Evans, Walt Disney, George Whitney, Bill Contrell, Dick Irvine, and Admiral Joe Fowler. Seems you can’t keep former Imagineers from contributing when Bob Gurr shouted out from the audience trying to correct Marty. More photos of the major talents who designed the Park

Marty said that Walt had visited the Florida property a couple of times. One of Marty’s assignments given by Dick Irvine was to craft a background and philosophy book for the Magic Kingdom. The management team knew they were doing something very different and they wanted to make sure all of the east coast Cast Members were on the same page with the Disneyland staff.

According to Marty, the original leak about the Florida project came from Walt Disney himself, in an article in the Chicago Tribune on October 25, 1966. When Marty wanted to learn more about the EPCOT project, Walt referred him to the article in the Tribune. He also suggested that the planning for EPCOT did not extend much beyond the transportation network.

Walt’s objectives for his community of tomorrow was to meet the needs of people. He knew that no one company could pull off such a project by itself. For me, a real treat was to see both recorded endings of the famous EPCOT film hosted by Walt only six weeks prior to his death. I was very excited to see the rarely seen pitch given to the Florida State Legislature to encourage them to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Walt basically said, if you do not approve our request you will be responsible for nothing happening. Considering the leaders saw this film only a couple of months after Walt’s death, it is easy to see why this landmark entitlement document got passed.

Marty was also assigned to write the preface for the EPCOT Building Code. Considering that Marty knew nothing about such legal documents, it is tribute to his intellectual flexibility.

The vision for EPCOT changed in 1974 with the gasoline crisis. When gas prices jumped from 38 cents per gallon to over 54 cents per gallon virtually overnight, Walt Disney World attendance took a huge hit. To see what kind of interest Disney could generate from industry, a technology conference was held in 1976. The keynote address was provided by author Ray Bradbury.

The audience was treated to a number of early Epcot Center concepts through drawings and photographs of models. One of the earliest ideas was to intertwine two circular structures, one for Future World and another for World Showcase. This version of the theme park would have been located between the Polynesian Resort and the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC). The real breakthrough came from Imagineer Harper Goff, who came up with idea of a cul-de-sac of nations with equal waterfront frontage.

Marty also confirmed that the entire project would be driven by the sponsors. He reminded the audience that at the time, Americans did not trust the government nor industry but they did trust Mickey Mouse. One example shown was a Mickey Mouse comic book with more than 10 million passed out.

Ever wonder why the walkway between Future World and the World Showcase is so long? Apparently, in that spot is one of the largest sinkholes in Florida. Marty said that they tried everything to fill the hole including dropping trucks down the pit. Even today, nobody is quite sure how deep the hole really is.

Marty also shared how a Disney Legend confounded the engineers by suggesting how to build Spaceship Earth. The technical folks said that the globe would have to rest on the ground if it were to stand. John Hench came up with a better solution. Spaceship Earth is made up of three parts. There is a large table held up by the angled supports that guests see today. One-quarter of the globe would hang below the table and the other two-thirds would rest on top.

The audience was treated to a couple of very special film snippets. One was the “Getting Ready” film with an energetic song by Bob Garner. Another was the Danny Kaye segment of the opening broadcast where he very effectively explains what Epcot is (or isn’t).

The audience was also treated to the World Showcase pavilions that never were. Costa Rica would have featured a glass enclosed hot house filled with lush tropical plantings. Israel would have been a reproduction of an historic street. The Denmark pavilion would have sported an ice skating rink and a Tivoli Gardens boat ride. Harper Goff worked on the Iranian pavilion while former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist spent six weeks waiting to meet with the Shah. Two weeks later the Shah was overthrown.

The one that Marty really wished to have built was the Africa pavilion. It would have featured an African river rapids ride and a “rhythm” show. Another feature would have been one of the largest displays of African Art anywhere. Disney had acquired a massive collection of art objects and ultimately donated the materials to the Smithsonian when the pavilion was shelved.

Marty also talked about the original concept for the American Adventure. The plan was to put the pavilion between Future World and the World Showcase. The structure would have resembled the Hirschhorn gallery in Washington DC. Guests would pass underneath the structure. In the end, it was decided to move it to the far side of the lagoon so that it would act as a “wienie” and draw guests deep into the Park.

Marty finished his presentation with a seven minute film about the development of the American Adventure. One of the key Imagineers was Randy Bright and he walked viewers through the evolution of the attraction. Bright said the reason that the attraction is a stage show is because you You cannot tell important information in a ride through.

Finally, the audience was treated to wonderful short film featuring the songs of Epcot. Heads were bobbing to the music everywhere, and when Marty was done, he received a rousing round of applause.

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, I was honored to be a part of the authors panel. As a Disney fan, it just does not get any better than this. To sit with true Disney legends is a wonderful thing. Still seems somewhat unreal at times but I have you – the readers – to thank.

MiceChat Celebrates EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary this September, Join Us!

Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2012 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT’s World Showcase for this one of a kind event!

Your ticket includes:

  • Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)%2